Russian President Vladimir Putin has a lot of things that appeal to Russians going for him. Tough guy Bond villain international image, a Wild West crony capitalist economy, and a tendency to beat up on foreign neighbors. The former Sovs love these things, as they simultaneously contrast with and remind them of the old regime.
But the bloom may be off the rose a bit as a recent Levada Poll, a relatively independent Russian service, found that 40 percent of Russian voters would not vote for Putin if elections were held today. Now, that also means he would win in a 60 percent landslide. Furthermore, his January approval rating was at 64 percent. Great, huh? One problem. This 64 percent figure, one a U.S. pol would kill for, is Putin’s lowest in five years.
Still seems strange sometimes writing about actual poll numbers that have an effect on a Russian national leader’s power.
To combat the bad PR over the situation he’s rattling a basically empty saber at the West, threatening to deploy missiles he’s already deployed, in response to the U.S. pulling out of the INF Treaty. This is a change-the-subject move to distract from poor living standards. Millions of Russians still live below the poverty line after almost two decades of Putin’s reign. A recent raising of the retirement age and the VAT tax haven’t helped his popularity either.
However, those will seem like minor matters not too many years hence if the government doesn’t do something to address the demographic crisis, as the birth rate has fallen badly since the Soviets imploded in 1991. It fell by 11 percent in 2017 alone to the lowest point in ten years. Are you listening, Germany?
Putin will easily survive this and other speed bumps. The Russians have shown themselves over the centuries to prefer strongman rule and Vlad does not disappoint. But he cannot outwrestle economic reality or shirtlessly manhandle an aging population.
If he tries, the poll numbers could fall into the 50s or less. Normal here. Dangerous there.